The Knicks are bad now, and they’ll be bad forever. At least that’s how it feels sometimes. Despite that feeling, there’s a littler fervor in New York that the Knicks could challenge for a playoff spot in a weak Eastern Conference this season, even if the future isn’t especially bright in orange and blue.
Speaking of bright futures, the New York Knicks are ranked 28th in ESPN’s future power rankings, according to Insiders Chad Ford and Kevin Pelton. Those rankings take into account the roster, management, salary cap situation, market viability and draft capital.
Spoiler alert, the Knicks rate terribly in four of those five categories. Despite having one of the best markets in the NBA, the Knicks have struggled to build a roster and sustain success for the past 15 years. The Lakers have remained relevant with an influx of stars, from Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant, and it’ll only be a matter of time until they have new stars in Hollywood. The Clippers are beginning to make the same reputation in Los Angeles. Miami is still a draw, as are Cleveland and Golden State with their recent successes.
No such luck right now in New York, with both the Knicks and Nets reeling. The Knicks’ roster ranked for current and future potential as 27th in the league. Carmelo Anthony will carry the team in terms of their current projection, while Ford and Pelton’s opinion of Kristaps Porzingis — and to a lesser extend Jerian Grant — leaves the roster ranking in flux. Ranking the Knicks ahead of the Lakers and 76ers, who took D’Angelo Russell and Jahlil Okafor with the two picks directly before the Knicks, gives some hope that they agree with the Zinger himself that he’ll be better than Shawn Bradley. Of course, the Lakers and 76ers have plenty of other problems that keep their rosters from being ideal.
Between the Lakers, 76ers and the other bottom team in terms of roster, the Nets, the Knicks have by far the best player in Anthony. What brings them down to the level of those other bad teams is the bottom of the roster. The Knicks possess five players who could play meaningful minutes this season who are among the worst in the league, according to ESPN’s rankings. Langston Galloway (317th), Cleanthony Early (318th), Jose Calderon (321st), Lou Amundson (364th) and Lance Thomas (398th) all fall in the “bottom 100” of NBA players.
Additionally, Sasha Vujacic and Thanasis Antetokounmpo were on the proverbial “close but no cigar” list, not making the top 400 NBA players. A number of players signed recently for training camp weren’t mentioned at all, but aren’t expected to be included in this ranking and are long shots to make the roster anyway.
They’re tied with the Nets for 28th in terms of their management structure, a disappointing grade for both Phil Jackson and Derek Fisher. For the first-time team president and his first-time coach, the 2014-15 season was a struggle. The roster tanked, especially after the Anthony injury, and Fisher had a lot of growing pains as a coach.
Of course, Fisher’s biggest mishap according to Knicks fans was winning too many games towards the end of the season and ending up with worse lottery odds because of it. Jackson seemed to have been turning the perception around this offseason, making subtle moves to improve the roster without sacrificing any more future capital in the process. There were no big splashes, but after the dust settled there was an air of positivity around the decisions — other than signing Derrick Williams, maybe. Still, any vote of confidence from the fan base didn’t come through in the ESPN Insider rankings.
Luckily for them, they’re only 20th in money and draft capital despite being cash-strapped this coming offseason and not having a first-round pick, so there may be a glimpse of hope in the (not-too-near) future. Most of those problems are still stemming from the previous management. Jackson inherited a team void of young talent and without much financial flexibility. Being ranked 20th in both of those actually indicates the vote of confidence Ford and Pelton didn’t give management, granted looking at future draft picks and finances doesn’t leave as much room for opinion as does an assessment of a roster or management team. Still, for the Knicks that results as a slight positive for an organization without much to look for on the horizon the past two seasons.
Of course, they’ve kept themselves ahead of the Nets and Kings in the overall rankings mostly on the strength of their second-best NBA market. That market hasn’t helped the Knicks land a big-time free agent in a long time. Amar’e Stoudemire was a big contract — albeit a bad one — but he was also a consolation prize after missing out on the big three of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.
The New York market did play a big part in the Carmelo Anthony trade. That gutted the team, even if Wilson Chandler, Danilo Gallinari and Timofey Mozgov wasn’t a huge loss, but it’s no secret the market is the biggest, if not the only, reason Anthony pushed for that specific trade.
Strong market or not, the Knicks will have to bring the other aspects of team-building way up if they want to appear higher on the rankings next offseason, and more importantly if they want to see actual sustainable on-court success. The Knicks have been leaning on that market for years with little to show for it. Hopefully Jackson and Fisher can build a roster around Anthony and develop young players like Porzingis and Grant in order to get the Knicks to where they need to be to compete in the East.